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Maimonides and the Purpose of (the) Law

 

As I hinted a little at, in my post yesterday, I might have found a little breakthrough, in Maimonides’ thoughts on the purpose on Law, as is formulated in the Guide (for the Perplexed).. So today I’m going to write a little about that..

 

What caught my eyes and thoughts, was chapter 27 in the third part of the Guide, where he writes about the purpose of the Law.. The “Law” here is Torah, that is the Torah that was given to Moshe Rabenu, A”S, on Mount Sinai.. Especially one sentence is revealing the question “What is the purpose of the Law?”, namely:

“The true Law…. has for its purpose to give us the twofold perfection. It aims first at the establishment of good mutual relations among men by removing injustice and creating the noblest feelings. In this way the people in every land are enabled to stay and continue in one condition, and every one can acquire his first perfection. Secondly, it seeks to train us in faith, and to impart correct and true opinions when the intellect is sufficiently developed. Scripture clearly mentions the twofold perfection, and tells us that its acquisition is the object of all the divine commandments.”

 

The “twofold perfection” that he talks about, are the perfection of the soul, as well as the perfection of the body.. This is in relation to the twofold well-being (also of the soul and the body), but whereas the “perfections” are on the personal level, the “well-beings” are on a social level..

Hence he begins the chapter by saying:

 

“The general object of the Law is twofold: the well-being of the soul, and the well-being of the body.”

 

Which means that the object is to establish the twofold well-being, so we can reach the twofold perfection.. That is, by establishing a society, that fulfills the twofold well-being, we can reach the purpose of our existence, namely to be perfected..

So what does that mean, the twofold well-being?

The well-being of the soul is having the correct opinions and faith, which can be obtained, by “communicating” the correct opinions (obviously), in a way that all can understand, and hence some have to be said plain, while other things have to be communicated through allegorical means.. That is, for example, to believe in G-D, to believe that He is One, that He has no body and so on.. This whole subject, about the correct opinions and what they are, is very interesting, but I won’t delve into it here, I’ll save that for another time..

The well-being of the body is the proper conduct, for example to pray, to wear the right close, behave in the right ways, and so on.. This is reached, he says, by managing our relations, which I read as meaning that how we establish and govern the society.. This can be done in two ways:

“…first by removing all violence from our midst; that is to say, that we do not do every one as he pleases, desires, and is able to do; but every one of us does that which contributes towards the common welfare. Secondly, by teaching every one of us such good morals as must produce a good social state.”

 

I think that “violence” here, shouldn’t be understood as physical violence or in the context of the modern understanding of the word, but that “violence” is improper and “perverse” conduct..

 

He continues by stating, that though the well-being of the soul is above the well-being of the body, the latter goes before the former, since the well-being of the soul, only can be attained in a society, where the well-being of the body already is established.. And here he crosses to the perfections, namely by comparing the two situations, that the perfection of the soul, can’t be reached before the perfection of the body is a fact (that is, we cross here from the general to particular, from the society to the individual)..

A person can’t focus on the perfection of the soul, which:

 

“consists in his becoming an actually intelligent being; i.e., he knows about the things in existence all that a person perfectly developed is capable of knowing. This second perfection certainly does not include any action or good conduct, but only knowledge, which is arrived at by speculation, or established by research.”

 

If not his body hasn’t reached its perfection, which means that all the physical needs are covered.. So we will see that a man, who hasn’t food, a shelter and other things in that matter, won’t be able to reach for the perfection of the soul.. And, as Maimonides claims, this is only possible to obtain in society, since man is by nature social..

 

So hence we can conclude, that the purpose of the Law, is to establish a well-governed society, based on Divine commandments, were we as individuals can reach for the twofold perfection..

 

The translation used, is Friedländer’s translation..

 

Kol Tuv

 


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